Let Inga Tell You: Raising pets is for the birds (really!)
If I had one piece of advice for parents, it is to never let your kids get pets with a life expectancy greater than you.
We know of what we speak.
When our son Rory was 9, he begged for a cockatiel. Actually, he begged for a boa constrictor or a dachshund, but given the Mom reptilian aversion factor and sibling’s allergies, neither of those were happening. I also wasn’t sure I trusted Rory not to try to feed his brother to the snake. Although if boas would eat goldfish, we could have had a negotiation.
Shortly after my first husband and I separated, the kids arrived home from a weekend visit holding a plastic bag with three goldfish.
“Look, Mommy! Daddy bought us pets! This one is Lucky, that one is Tucky, and the little one is Ducky!”
“How nice of Daddy!” I exclaimed, sending psycho-radioactive darts in Dad’s direction. “But where is Lucky, Ducky and Tucky’s bowl?”
“The pet store has lots of choose from!” said my ex, beating a hasty retreat. So he got credit for “pets” (39-cent outlay), and Mom forked out $20 for the bowl, toys, food. The kids lost interest in them in four minutes flat, but it was 10 years before one of the fish finally passed away. (“I hope it wasn’t Lucky,” said my second husband, Olof, at the time.)
“So,” I said to the nice lady at the Village Pet Shop, as I arrived on Christmas Eve to pick up our first cockatiel. “How long do these birds live?”
“Oh,” she said, “20 years. Sometimes 30.”
Dinky, the Christmas bird, was the first of many cockatiels who would come into our lives, subsequently joined by Slinky, Twinkie and a boatload of other “inkies.” Rory liked to hang out after school at the pet shop where they would have him try to tame the birds that were too unfriendly to sell. A natural bird whisperer, Rory was universally successful, and in the process developed an attachment to the bird, which we would invariably end up buying.
Olof mumbled about our becoming an avian social service agency. “It was an unsalable bird!” he’d gripe. Ultimately, the kids outgrew perseverative “inky” and “ucky” pet names. Good thing, as we were pretty much down to Stinky and Sucky.
Just as the tame bird population flying around the house began to create a health hazard that the cleaning lady perceptively termed “too much caca,” Rory decided to expand into bird breeding, which required an outdoor aviary where the birds could fly freely.
That succeeded waaaaay too well. Threatened with an exponentially expanding bird population, we finally wrested the nesting box (without which they won’t mate) from the cage, thus alleviating Olof’s true-life nightmare of our own personal Hitchcock movie.
Rory, now 32, left for college some 15 years ago and is married to a cat person in Santa Cruz. We, however, still have most of the birds. Will they really live 30 years? Or will it just seem that way?
In truth, we’re pretty attached to them. They recognize our car engines, they whistle with Olof, they chirp with joy when we come out to feed them in the morning. A suggestion last week to our younger son in L.A. that the birds might wish to relocate to the nice sunny backyard of their newly purchased home brought an almost instantaneous reply from our daughter-in-law: DO NOT EVEN THINK IT.
Um, OK, that was pretty clear.
Looks like we’re leaving these birds a bequest in our will.